Remember Who You Are

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Our text this week reminds us that we live in the time of promise, of already but not yet. Already our salvation has been effected! Christ has come and has effected our salvation! But we are still earthly creatures and we struggle with earthly problems. There will be portents of wars and fear and foreboding, people will faint from fear. Jesus knows us. Jesus knows that we turn to fear and abide in fear all too easily. Jesus knows that we fear loss and that change, any change, even positive change, brings with it loss. Jesus knows this. He speaks directly to our current experience just as he spoke directly to the experience of those who heard his voice.

 

The lectionary has placed this ominous text on the first Sunday of advent, advent which is a pregnant time, a time of waiting, of anticipation. It is a time when we are fully out of control, just as a pregnant teenager is fully out of control, events taking place within her body, changing her being, and completely beyond her control. So we too, inviting God into our lives, often find ourselves out of control. It’s not for the faint of heart. It is a time of waiting and anticipating that God will do great things within us and through us, things which we can neither see nor anticipate. This loss of control, this ambiguous beginning, can be frightening.

 

More than ever we enter Advent as a time of waiting in the dark, anticipating the coming, the birth of our Lord, but knowing that while we wait, we wait in the dark. Luke uses many references to that day, those days, and the days that are coming. It seems that he wants to remind us that ‘that day’, the one where we get the phone call we never expected to get, the one where the test results coming back are not what we wanted to hear, that day is coming. The lectionary this year, appears to direct us to that day when we will dwell in darkness and must discover how to be faithful even then.

 

“There have been many losses,” writes Janice Jean Springer, reflecting on the days following her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Among these losses, she counts the erosion of her “self-image as a strong and vibrant woman … ” By contrast, the struggle to keep her balance, to not fall, seems unpleasantly familiar.

She has lost other things as well, but perhaps the most painful loss of all: “I’ve lost my illusions. I’ve lost the illusion that I am exempt from the losses and limits that besiege other people.”

She writes that each of us will be confronted by losses that make us wrestle with the question, “[How] can I be faithful in my new circumstances?”2

 

How then to be faithful? Even in the midst of darkness, while we wait and anticipate the coming of our lord. Faithful in the midst of a pregnant time, a waiting, anticipating time, in the midst of the already, but not yet.

 

This weekend we gathered with friends and family in a celebration of the abundance and good things that God has given us, not the least of which is each other. We gathered to intentionally celebrate all those things we tend to overlook on a day to day basis. That we have enough. That we are enough. That we are loved and cared for beyond our expectations. We gathered to celebrate that we have roofs over our heads and solid walls keeping out the cold and cutting wind. We gathered to celebrate that we have refrigerators full of good things and stoves on which to prepare celebratory feasts! We gathered around our televisions to watch football games and cheer on our teams. We gathered to watch the Macy’s Parade or the Westminster Dog show. Some of us binged on Netflix, some of us hiked in the beautiful outdoors. We shared greetings with friends from all over the world via social media, and some of us curled up by the fire with a good book. But whatever we did, we were intentionally grateful for all that we had been given, all that we have been and are blessed with. We celebrated the eucharist, which literally translated means to give thanks, to celebrate, to be grateful, and while we might not have thought of linking our breaking bread together around the table to e eucharistic, in many ways it was exactly that.

 

When Jesus gathered his friends and they broke bread together he told them, ‘remember.” He knew how easy it is to get distracted and lose our perspective. Fear saturates the air we breathe. Fear is an expert at making us forget who we are and whose we are. Fear has a way of taking over, of driving our behavior and limiting our choices. So Jesus asked us to remember and this weekend we did. We remembered our blessings, the gifts we have received, the gifts that others are for us, and the gift we are to others. The command, Do Not Be Afraid, appears in the bible more than any other, 365 times to be exact. Gandhi is quoted as saying, “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” Do not be afraid, God tells us. If perfect love casts out hate, perhaps perfect faith casts out fear.

 

We are asked to step forward in faith and trust that we will be cared for. Crisis becomes not a reality but a lack of faith. We are tempted always to manage by crisis, to move from one dramatic event to the other, these crisis feeling so real, so pervasive that they can dominate our thinking and we become reactive. We are tempted to manage, to control, to manipulate so that things will turn out as we desire, and when they don’t we are tempted to assign blame. We are asked to step forward in faith, trusting that God is in control and that everything, all manner of things will be OK. We are reminded that everything does NOT depend upon us, and we need not anxiously attempt to manage, control, and produce. We can rest in deep gratitude knowing that God is with us, God is in control, and lucky for us, everything does not depend upon us. And in remembering this we give thanks, eucharisto, in remembering this we move out of fear and anxiety and into a deeper faith practice, a more faithful way of BEing in the world. We were not created to BE fear but to BE love.

Fear has a way of making us forget who we are, and whose we are. So on this first day of advent we are asked to remember:

 

Remember—you were created by love, to be love. Love has created you in its own image. You came from love, you were created by love, and your purpose on earth is to be love. Feel the fear and love anyway!

 

Remember—there is a goodness stronger than evil, a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it! We are called to be that light which steps out into the shadows, not the comforting soft shadows of rest but the places where pain and hurt and loss seem so very strong and incontrovertible. We are called to be that love, that promise that speaks to the goodness which is stronger than evil, which will always overcome, and which is the final answer. We are called to hold the hand of those who walk through difficult and painful times. Centuries ago Hafiz wrote a poem saying, “Out of a great necessity we are all holding hands and climbing, Not loving is a letting go. Listen, the terrain around here, is Far too Dangerous for That!”

 

Remember—we are called to hold on to one another, especially when the terrain we travel through is difficult. We are one body in Jesus Christ. We belong to one another. We are called to hold out a hand to those who are alone, those who suffer. As we gather with friends and family around tables burdened with food under roofs which shelter us from the elements we are called to remember those who hunger, those who long for home and hearth, those who are homeless or refugees. We belong to each other, not loving is a letting go. Their suffering is our suffering. We cannot be well while our brother, our sister is not well. Our fates are tied together.

 

Remember—that the powers of the world, including most of the news media services, are for profit organizations which live and profit off of our fear and anxiety. When they tell us we will lose and we will suffer and we ought to be afraid, that we cannot be strong enough, rich enough, thin enough, remember that God knows you by name. That God knows you and has claimed you and no one and nothing can come between the love of God in Jesus Christ and you. Nothing. Remember that God created you in the image of God, you are enough, you have enough. When you find yourself feeling more and more anxious as the news persists in highlighting all the ways you ought to be afraid, turn it off. Rest instead in the Word of God. Rest in the promise of God’s eternal love and know it is OK.

 

Remember—you are more powerful than you think. Your words, your heart, your choices matter, and they impact others. What we choose to do with our words, our actions, our choices, impact others often in ways we cannot see. Remember that we all struggle with wounds, both seen and unseen and we need to be gentle with one another. We have the choice to be healers, to be friends to those who hurt and to remember that those who are in pain will often ask for help in the most ungracious ways, but that we can love them anyway. Because that’s who we are and that’s what we are created in the image of, a love that knows no boundaries, no limitations, and which loves the most unlovable. We are created in that image. Remember that.

 

Remember—mostly, who you are. Remember that you can choose to rest in gratitude and that a grateful heart is a peaceful heart, is a loving heart. Remember that God loves you and has claimed you. Remember that no one and nothing can come between you and the love of God in Jesus Christ. Remember that you are, yes you, you are a beloved child of God. Nothing can change that. As we begin advent entering into the unknown, the anticipation of the coming of Christ, I remember the many ways in which this community has chosen to live fearlessly as a witness to the love of God for all people.  A church that has gone outside its walls to witness to the love of God for all people. A church that has intentionally engaged in reconciliation! Now more than ever, may we continue to boldly give witness to the Light that shines in the darkness and cannot, cannot! be overcome. May it be so.

The Word We Seek

dietrich

~ click here for audio

Truth? What is truth? And Pilate washes his hands. Today I want to listen to these words which seem to cry out for the Word, a word of truth and power. We are so often beset by hopelessness, by fear, by terror. Images wash over us day in and day out reminding us that there is so much that is beyond our control, so much we deeply desire to change, to have otherwise, so much we don’t understand.

 

Diana Butler-Bass, one of my favorite theologians, wrote recently that our questions have changed. In the middle ages, and even before, when faced with tragedy we asked what God meant by this tragedy, had we somehow caused it, was it a punishment. Job’s friends asked him these questions, what have you done to anger God? Surely there must be something? Or maybe one of your kids did something? You know how kids are, they just don’t think sometimes. After WW ll our questions changed. For the first time it seemed possible that all of humanity could be wiped out. Before this we only questioned if our line or our memory might some day be gone, but after Hiroshima, after Nagasaki, an awareness began to dawn that it just might be possible that the human race might end, and an existential anxiety was born into our culture that had not existed before. Our faith was tested as never before as we were asked to stay present to the terrible potential and still believe. Philosophers began to proclaim that God is dead, for no god worth following could allow such a terrible potential. Our faith was tested, reasonable men and women washed their hands of God, despair seemed the final answer.

 

Truth? What is truth? And we too want to wash our hands and just go on with our day. Today in the face of the overwhelming news inundation we long for comfort, for relief. How can we see the king of kings in a broken, shattered body, hung on a cross? How can we see a way forward through loss and diminishment? I should have paired this scripture with a reading from Job! Because at one time or another we all sit in the ashes, we all mourn and cry out with Pilate, Truth? You want truth?

 

So today I want to listen to Pilate, to his loss and his desire for a word of truth. I want to hear him cry out that he can’t give you a word of truth, that he too longs for a word of truth, but power, he might say, I can give you power. I can give you security and certainty. Hold on now. You brought me this disturbing, unsettling man and you ask that I kill him. I can do that. I can take him out. Every man fears another with a sword and I have one. I have many. I only live in fear of those who have more, so yes, I can give you certainty, I can give you security, I can re-affirm your status quo. I can give you death to all unsettling, disturbing questions. I can silence your doubts and with the strength of my sword arm I can bring peace, the peace of the Roman army, the peace of occupation and surrender. That I can give you. But remember only that you came to me! I did not come to you! I who cry out for a word of truth but find it nowhere. I who have, at the end of the day, only despair and fear, certainty of death and fear of the one who will bring it.

 

This is how kingdoms work, right? Power over, not power with. Kings are those who take power, who have armies of strong men with weapons. This is how we have experienced kings. This is a worldly kingdom! My kingdom is not of this world, Jesus tells Pilate. I am not like you. I do not live by the sword. Hanging in the air, perhaps unseen and unheard is the statement I am the Word you have been longing for. I am the Truth. Pilate, unseeing and despairing, washes his hands. I can do nothing with this man, he says.

 

A tale of two kings, of two rulers, but only one filled with uncertainty, with loss, with despair. A tale of two kings, but only one will live, will be exalted, will be lifted up. Too often, I believe, we have credited Pilate with some feeling, some uncertainty about Jesus. As if, seeing and hearing Jesus he recognized something he’d never seen before, as if he might have had doubts, but I’m not sure about that.

 

If we had asked Pilate, who rules your life? Would he have not answered Caesar? It was the correct answer at the time, the right box to check on all applications. The rabbis and leaders of the Sanhedrin who had brought Jesus to Pilate knew this answer and when questioned they quickly asserted, we have no king but Ceasar. No ruler, no emperor, no king, but Caesar.

 

I wanted to pull our statement of faith from the Barmen confession today, but found no soundbite worthy piece of it that would do. But I still want to talk about this, this barmen confession that arose in the wake of WWll. For if we found ourselves facing a brand new existential anxiety, an awareness of the fragility of life, for if we found that our philosophers and popular culture was washing their hands with Pilate, Truth? What truth? The barmen confession spoke boldly that our word of truth is that God is king, God rules our life, now and always.

 

It was not as if some pastors had not proclaimed loudly that the fuhrer was king, was the ruler. It was not as if we had not turned away from God just as the crowd had done in Jerusalem, we had. We had been co-opted by earthly powers. We had begged for certainty and security. The barmen confession is about repenting of this. It is about proclaiming loudly and for all the world to hear that Jesus is King, now and always; that Jesus rules our lives, now and always; that we will not join Pilate at the fount, washing our hands again in despair.

 

The barmen confession is our loud proclamation of Joy!!! Jesus is King!!! Can I get an amen, can I get an alleluia? Jesus is King!!! Death does not have the final answer, the powers of the world are not the final answer!

 

Pilate is the voice of reason, the voice of the world, the voice that says, this world that you can see and touch is all that there is. There isn’t anything more. You will live and you will die and the only thing that matters is to have and get as much as you can while you live, to kill before you are killed, to live as long as you can, to grasp, and hold, and fight for what you want, for as long as you can!

 

This is the voice that says you ought to live in terror, you ought to live in fear, because death is coming and death is final. This is the voice that says that we need certainty and security because we are alone in the world. This is the voice that rulers of this world speak with.

 

The barmen confession professes something else. The barmen confession reminds us that, while we are prone to listening to the frightening, terrifying voices of the world, that we have another voice, a Word of Truth, that all the powers of the world cannot silence, cannot diminish, cannot take from us. We have a Word of truth that tells us we are never alone and we are never forgotten; we have a Word that tells us death is not the end and that we can live fully, and freely and unafraid.

 

Let that sink in. In our world today, with all the images of fear and terror saturating our society, we can live boldly and fully, with deep vulnerability and presence to one another, as Christians. We do not need to be afraid.

 

Oh our fears will jump up! Oh how they will yell and shout and insist that we need to be in control, we need to DO SOMETHING! Do something, end our uncertainties and insecurities, please, end our anxiety. If we are honest, we can all admit we are prone to this. Some of us are people who like to take control when we feel anxious and some of us are people who want someone near to us to please take control and assure us that we are cared for, but very few of us, in the face of all the worldly powers that face us down, frightening us, let go of all need for control. Very few and I admire those who can even when I doubt they’re actually doing it!

 

Thy kingdom come on earth, here and now, not someday, not in some far away distant place which we might see and be present to perhaps when we’re dead, but now, here. Thy kingdom come, where you are the ruler and the provider of all things and we can trust that. Thy kingdom come, where fear and terror are turned over to your to manage and we don’t have to be afraid anymore. Thy kingdom, not mine, not the republicans, not the democrats or independents, thy kingdom. Please, now, please here.

 

Please come into the anxieties and fears we carry, please settle our souls and help us to live with the uncertainties. Our way is not Your way, but we want to learn. We will not wash our hands with Pilate, removing all the stains of our mistakes and our regrets, but with deep humility we acknowledge our hands, indeed our whole body, is dust and to dust it will return, and with hope and conviction we turn to You, the source of our life and our joy, the promise that death and loss are not the final word and we ask that Your kingdom come, meaning Lord, that we ask you and you alone to rule in our hearts today and always. We will not join Pilate in despairing for a word of truth, for we have a Word, a Word that was with God in the beginning and through whom all things came into being and not one thing came into being that did not come through him.

 

With the writers of the barmen confession we confess that we have been afraid, with the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem we confess that we have sought certainty and security in earthly powers, but with the whole church we confess that we repent of this and we proclaim loudly and joyfully, with deep relief that Jesus is King, death and loss are not the final answers and they do not rule in our lives and in our hearts. Jesus, the word of truth, Jesus, the way, rules in our hearts and in our souls now and always.

 

A Dance of Defiant Joy

07072012*Jazzart performing at Artscape Saturday Night. Call if you need clarity 083 435 9089 (Eltena)  **Photo Nasief Manie / Foto24
07072012*Jazzart performing at Artscape Saturday Night. Call if you need clarity 083 435 9089 (Eltena)
**Photo Nasief Manie / Foto24

09070202~ click here for audio

Dance, dance, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the dance said he…a line from our closing hymn. There is defiance in the dance. Defiance against self pity, defiance against withdrawl, defiance against all that would crush us, both inner and outer things. This defiance is not the rude defiance against all authority but a life-giving, life-preserving defiance that affirms who we are, what we love, and most importantly, Who we serve.

In the midst of pain and loss, we dance. In grief, we dance. In joy, we dance. Drawn into this eternal dance of the God who is three unique individuals engaged in a dance that unifies them into the one true God, one God who is yet three without any loss of particularity, without being homogenized, without losing all the unique qualities of the father, son and holy spirit. The very definition of perichoresis, God who is engaged in a dance within God’s very self, relational, creative, defiant against all that would erase difference, celebrating, life giving. We are drawn into this dance, this song. We are encouraged by this laughter, this refusal to allow all that is wrong with the world to diminish us, to make us small.

The temptation during hard times, during difficult times, is to turn inward. To close down. To shut down. Pain and loss have a way of narrowing our focus until all we can see is us, our hurt, our need, our loss, and dimly far off in the distance the one hoped for solution. All else gets shut out. All else is extraneous and unwanted information. We are focused on survival! Wow. Hear that in your heart, in your bones. It’s the same cry that justifies brutality and neglect the world over. It’s the same cry that insists we’d better take care of ourselves because no one else will.

Do we remember to be grateful? Or do we sink in sorrow, no one will rescue us, we cry, our numbers are small we cry, our finances are so tight, we cry. But are we grateful? Do we sing broadly and boldly of the good thing that God is doing for us? That we are a lively, vital congregation no matter how small? That we are a credible witness to the love of God for all people? That our worship and community life is so full, so wonderful? Do we remember and hold dear and with utter humility how much we are loved?

Maya Angelou wrote this poem, Still I Rise, about the experience of defiant joy:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

Are we rising today? Rising in defiant joy?

Do not look to the past, the Lord says, For behold I am doing a new thing! Do not look to the past, lest you be encrusted with tears of regret and longing for what was, what could have been, what might have been, lost forever to this new thing that God is doing. Lost like Lot’s wife, forever staring into the horror of loss and unable to turn around, unable to see her children, her family, safe and alive. Behold I am doing a new thing, can you not see it? Go on now, rise! Rise!

Moses and Miriam left Egypt behind with song and dance. Imagine the adrenaline rush. The fear that would have seeped from their pores, electrifying their whole beings, but not in a good way, as they ran. The gasp, a whole body shudder that ran through them as the walls of the red sea collapsed on the Pharoah’s army. They had lived their whole lives in fear, suddenly, with brutal suddeness, they were free. The first laugh would have been a startled one, ragged with the edges of fear and exhaustion. The first song would have risen from a murmuration of words repeating across the crowd, rising to a chant, becoming a song of defiance! Dance broke out among stumbling, falling limbs. The tension too tight to hold in, finding release in a whoop and a dance! A riot of anger, and rage, of hopelessness and fear, of kill me first defiance, converted into a dance of freedom and new hope! This was no timid, proper procession. Moses and Miriam leading with tamborine and cymbals as they walked in a stately manner into the desert, No! This was a riot of, “you will no longer rape my daughters” it was a defiant shout of , ‘you will no longer kill my sons!” It was the heavy sigh of “I can sleep tonight in peace and safety, at last, at long last.”

I want to remind you all, because we are engaged in racial reconciliation, that these are the same cries that our neighbors of color long to shout out. At long last my daughters are safe, my sons are safe, at long last I can sleep tonight in safety. At long last when my daughter says no, don’t touch me, it really means no and is not an invitation to break her. At long last when my sons are tall and broad shouldered, strong and healthy, they are seen as the bright, capable hope of the future and not a threat to be destroyed.

And God invites them, and us, into the dance. A dance of defiance against all that would diminish or crush us, a dance of vitality that celebrates the incredible diversity and beauty of the human condition. A dance which is full and joyous, which is expansive and looks to the future, even when the future is an unknown walk into the desert, with faith and joy. Go on now, look at the future with faith, hope and joy. Behold I do a new thing, do not look to the past. Do not be frozen with remorse, dead to the world, curled in upon yourself in grief and loss. Don’t go there.

We are called into the dance, into the new thing. We are not people of what was, but rather of what is and will be. We dance in the midst of pain and loss and sorrow, of confusion and fear, because God is with us.

Just as we might wonder if there were hebrew slaves who refused to follow Moses out into the desert, who hid and hoped that whatever evil the Egyptians would visit on the escaping slaves would pass them by, we might wonder if there were other Mary’s, other young girls who were offered the chance to be the virgin mother, but who said, with all wisdom, no. Were there other girls who responded to the news that the messenger of God brought by saying, “Are you kidding me? My father will kill me! and not figuratively. I can’t do this!”

But there was something defiant in Mary. Her yes was spoken in defiance of all tradition and law, all expectation of neighbors, of society. Her yes resonates deeply across the centuries. It is a yes to life. A yes that embraces life so fully it encompasses hope, and loss, grief and joy. Her song, her dance and laughter, echoed a refrain of joy and defiance. God has seen me! I am not invisible, I am NOT nothing! Do you hear? I count, I matter, God sees me! And God will pull down all those who abuse their power, all the bullies, the bad cops, the brutal soldiers, the corupt mayors; all who are arrogant of heart—beware! God will pull you down. Freedom from hunger! Oh yes, freedom from fear and hunger are coming! All you who sit down at full tables thinking, well I got mine sorry for ya if you don’t—beware! God will send you away hungry! God is going to fulfill his promise and that does not bode well to all those who walk on by the hurting and homeless, the hungry and alone, refusing to dirty their hands by serving others. This is Mary’s song! Is it any wonder it has been banned in corrupt places? This iis a song of defiance and table-turning justice!

Mary’s song of defiance is a little different from that of Moses and Miriam. It is focused more on the every day brutality of poverty. The grinding diminishment of not enough, and the invisibility of the lower classes. Mary’s song turns more quickly to joy, God is doing a new thing—Through ME! She sings with the incredulity and faith only a teenager could have. She sings with the same defiance that Malala expresses as she fights for education for all young girls. Malala who was shot in the head by the taliban for daring to learn, daring to attend school, and refusing to stay stuck in the pain and loss of this event, says I’m not done yet. God is still doing a great thing through me.

There must have been Hebrew slaves who didn’t dare to run with Moses and Miriam, but we hear no more of them. They fade from history. I can’t imagine that the Egyptians were too kind to them when they returned from the death and destruction at the red sea. There must have been other Marys, because we do not have a God who forces himself on us. We have a God who offers us the new thing and begs us to step into this new thing. Don’t look back at things that were. In all faith and fidelity, join the dance in the desert, join the dance in the quiet of the night.

Do not look back with regret and remorse, letting your soul become encrusted with the salt of tears and brittle with loss. God is doing a new thing, and you are invited into the dance! You are drawn ever closer to God, like a child standing on her father’s toes as she learns to enter the dance, like a child swept up into his mother’s arms as the dance continues. We are a part of this dance and we can continue to live fully and faithfully into the call that God has placed on our hearts, not an onerous call of duty, but a call to light, and love, and joy! A call that celebrates exactly who we are and where we are.

We can get lost in fear and trepidation. We can turn inward and grieve that our hopes and expectations have not played out the way that we thought they would. Or we can boldly join the dance, let our songs rise ever heavenward, even if they begin with a stuttering, sobbing breath, aching with loss. Still we sing. Still we rise, because we are first and foremost children of God, claimed and loved eternally, and no one, and nothing, can ever take that away.

Meaning and Purpose

Viktor Frankl quote

09062501~ Click here for an audio  recording.

Today our sermon series asks us to consider how we create meaning and find purpose. The work of Brene Brown, a Houston University professor, suggests that in order for us to show up fully, to live that abundant life that Jesus came that we might have, we need to consider how we create meaning, how we find purpose. I cannot imagine a more poignant time for us to consider our purpose and the meaning we create together than today.

Our text today tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, which implies we do love ourselves. It implies we need to support and care about ourselves and that we must not injure or diminish ourselves. It implies that we live fully into the identity that God has given us and it is out of that genuine, authentic expression of who we are, who we are created to be, that we can give, that we can love, that we can be that light in the darkness. If we accept that we are created in the image of God, as an expression of God’s love, created in and for relationship, then how do we live into that? Who are we as individuals, as church? What is our meaning and purpose in the world?

Meaning and purpose are issues that arise during times of transition, of transformation. They arise at the end of life with particular clarity. Did I live as fully as I might have? Was I authentic and true to the unique identity that God gave me? Was I faithful?

A palliative care nurse, working with people at the end of their lives, wrote a wonderful article called A Nurse Reveals the Top 5 Regrets People Make on Their Deathbeds. The number one regret she found is a lack of authenticity; the failure to live a life true to one’s self rather than the life others expected. This regret is followed by others that to my eyes appear directly related, working too hard at a job that isn’t your passion, failing to express the love you have for those nearest and dearest to you, losing touch with those you love, and finally putting your happiness aside to satisfy the expectations of others.

When I worked as a chaplain intern at Abbott Northwest I was privileged to work on the cardiac floor of one of the best heart transplant centers in America. Not knowing this initially, I was surprised to find that this was a place of new life, where people came from all over the world to receive heart transplants. It was also, as I expected, a place of death and loss where people came in the hopes of a transplant that would never happen; it was a place where some came as they transitioned from this life to more life.

Working this floor and being present to this place of transition was a powerful experience. It was to witness families who refused to allow their loved ones to pass, to witness those who struggled with so many words of love and forgiveness painfully unexpressed. It was also a place where I witnessed lives fully lived, fully embraced surrendered, and often I witnessed all of this on the same day, one only a few feet down the hall from the other. It was to walk from one room filled with regret and longing for one more chance, to another where I was invited to pray for a quick departure from this life, a happy return to God, the ever hoped for words, “well done good and faithful servant,” then pulled close for a farewell kiss on the cheek before they passed on.

Times of transition and change beg us to entertain the question of meaning and purpose. What unique calling has God placed on our hearts? As a church First Presbyterian has come together to say that God has called us to be a reconciling presence in Jasper, to bind up the wounds of racism, to be a living witness to the love God in Jesus Christ. As such we must consider how we might live fully into that, what expectations of others might get in the way of this. What unique calling has God placed on your heart? Are there expectations that others have of you that get in the way of your expressing that unique gift?

We can get very caught up in living into the expectations others have of us. Expectations are tricky things, at the rehab we called them ‘resentments in training.’ Living up to the expectations of others can keep us busy, so busy we fail to become who we truly are and we are left struggling with regret. Holding expectations of others can leave us resentful when they don’t live up to them. Expectations can keep us from seeing what is actually there as we search for what we thought we would see. Expectations are tricky things. They shape and help form our relationships and they also limit them, constrict and sometimes fill them with resentment and regret.

This business of living fully into the meaning and purpose God has laid on your heart is difficult. It can mean breaking with tradition, breaking with expectations; it can mean becoming something no one has ever seen before, and this is where the courage, the wholeheartedness is most vividly seen. Last week a friend of mine preached on the reformation. He said that what amazed him the most about Martin Luther was not that he took issue with the church as it was; others had done this previously, Jan Huss in Prague, John Wycliffe in England, they had brought up the same issues 100 years before Martin Luther. So the ideas were not new. What is amazing is that Martin Luther voiced the same things knowing that Huss was burned at the stake and while Wycliffe avoided this fate due to his popularity with the royal family, his followers were burned at the stake for voicing these things. It was this refusal to be quiet, to be safe, to live into other’s expectations instead of claiming one’s own truth that created the reformation. This is what was amazing, what was wholehearted and completely courageous. This courage transformed an entire world religion and it is our heritage.

Martin Luther knew these stories. Even today when we talk about someone’s goose being cooked we are unknowingly referring to the burning of Huss, who’s name literally translates as goose. Martin found Huss’s sermons as a young man and in finding them, found a hero. He often reminded his followers of the goose who was burned for defying the pope. Huss’s courage and faith emboldened Luther. It is in living wholeheartedly and courageously into our truth that we help others to live into theirs, literally loving our neighbor as our self. Isn’t that amazing?

Ruth Chang, a lawyer and philosopher, gave a TED talk in New York where she talked about hard choices, and why they are hard. She said that hard choices are not necessarily the choice between which one is better, as in is it better to have 10 dollars or 5, but rather making a choice which is about creating meaning and purpose, choices that help to form our identity. It’s hard to differentiate between the value of being a lawyer or a philosopher, she explained, and early on being a lawyer felt safer, it felt more sure, so she chose that.

She heard the expectations of her family, their fear of her being poor and unemployable, and she became a lawyer. Only to find that it did not reflect the unique and wonderful calling that God had put on her heart. She was not called to be a lawyer even though being a lawyer or being a philosopher were pretty equal choices for her. Living into her unique identity, her gifts, required her to let go of her income and safety as a lawyer and re-enter school, to become a philosopher. Hard choices are hard because they confirm or betray our identity, not because one is necessarily better than another. For Ruth Chang meaning and purpose come together when she lives as a philosopher, which is not better than or worse than being a lawyer, it is just more authentic to who she is.

Hard choices, she tells us, are a gift. They allow us to shape and form our identity and to express to the world what it is that matters to us. Hard choices ask us to love ourselves that we might love others, holding aloft the deepest truth that we know, embodying the love of God for all people, a love we give witness to as it is lived out and expressed in our lives, is to love others. It is to find our deepest meaning and purpose and hold fast to these and by doing so give courage to all who are touched by us and our example.

We begin the process of loving God with all our heart and our neighbor as our self as we allow ourselves to fully inhabit the identity that God has given us, when we are truly faithful to the call God has placed on our hearts. Love is the fulfillment of the law, for love does no harm, and in this is a spaciousness that invites us to discern what God is asking of us, what call has been placed on our hearts, and how we might live more faithfully into this call.

As Christians living with meaning and purpose is about continually inviting God to draw us further and further into embodying and living fully the call that God has given us, to love our neighbor as ourselves. As the church it is to continually seek to be reformed, ecclesia semper reformanda est, the church is always to be reformed, again and again, as we seek to live more and more fully as the body of Christ in the world. We are invited to be both fiercely passionate and gentle in this process, that as we find that place where we can say, here I stand, and I can do no other, we are also acting in love, not a pale and superficial love but a passionate and deeply committed love, as full and wildly exorbitant as the love of the one who came to save us.

The wisdom of the cross is foolishness to the ways of the world. It is a foolishness we are invited into, a wild, exuberant, passionate foolish love, a life fully lived.